Monday, February 26, 2018

El Camino del Hemul! An Adventure on the Campe de Heilo Norte!

Looking south from high the summit ridge. Photo: Willy Oppenheim
In the 1970s, through a series of expeditions, a group of New Zealanders climbed a number of the large glaciated mountains on the 150km long 40km wide Northern Ice-Field of Chilean Patagonia. These multi week expeditions were/are super impressive as the weather on the ice field is often relentless 100km winds and precipitation that can last for days and weeks! Like in El Chalten you are just waiting for the next weather window and hope when it comes you are able to finish your objective before it gets slammed shut and you find yourself drinking mate in your, hopefully, well set up tent behind massive snow walls or your snow cave awaiting the next window to open.

Check out this little video Black Diamond video called "The Window" to get an idea of what I'm talking about.

For me this expedition all started years ago (2007) when I came Patagonia as a backpacker with climbing shoes and chalk bag in toe. I hiked to Laguna Torre, up to Fitz Roy and the circuit around Torres Del Paine. During that trip both Chilean and Argentine Patagonia inspired me to develop my climbing and mountaineering skills to the point that I could come to these mountains again and climb in them.

As life went on my climbing progressed with numerous trips to multi-pitch climbing destinations and adventures into the mountains of Western North America. In 2011 I found myself drawn back to Patagonia to work as a NOLS Mountaineering instructor. I worked 4 32day Mountaineering courses over 6 months and got to travel and climb in these amazing mountains again!
We had just climbed the first ascent of Cerro Meliquina and are on our way to meet up with the rest of the group. Photo Betsy Winston.
With some of my goals achieved I decided to come back and keep working to push my skills and knowledge of traveling in the mountains. In 2012 I came back to work for NOLS in Patagonia and also planned a trip to El Chalten where, with rad friends the late Cory Hall and Luka Vallatta we climbed Cerro Torre via the Ragni Route and with James Monypenny climbed Cerro Chalten (Fitz Roy) via the Supercanalata. Though my trip was cut short do to making a mistake that caused a lower leg injury I was really happy with where my climbing had taken me. More importantly the friendships I had made on these trips trumps the actually feelings of being on the summits because, for me, it is the people that make the experience. The trust you put in each other, the way you push each other to succeed and grow through climbing is hard to find anywhere else.
The Torre Group from the west.
Me and Luka on the Cumbre on Cerro Torre in 2012. Photo Cory Hall
Cerro Chalten (Fitz Roy) and the 1600m Supercanalata.
James on some of the mixed terrain on Fitz.
After that trip to Chalten I returned home to New Brunswick keen to recover and get right back at it. As 2013 developed I got right back out climbing and started planning other expeditions with rad friends to other places in the Americas. I also spent 2 more seasons working for NOLS in Patagonia.
You can find Erik Bonnett's yellow helmet in the center as he works his way up Kooshdakhaa Spire in AK.
As I write and reminisce of these past experiences I also reflect on all the learning and progression I have had as a person. These trips change things about you and it take times to reconnect back when you return to the front country. Life is so simple out there, you carry your life on your back and travel by foot. The simplicity of life on an expedition is amazing! Just think your life consists of sleeping eating and walking around, to be honest.... yes there is the climbing and dealing with weather and that is the simplicity of it.... there are no cars, limited technology, the noises are from the a natural world! it is amazing and you have to go into these lightly traveled parts of world to find this which seems to be an abnormal thing these days. Anyway that was a rant.... back to the beauty of Patagonia and climbing there.

It had been a few years since I had been to Patagonia and it was rad to land in Balamaceda, Chile and jump on a shuttle to the NOLS branch in Coyhaique. Though I wasn't coming to work it has been great to connect with friends I haven't seen in years! I love the feeling of rolling into a place and seeing the same smiling faces from years past and them greeting you with open arms!

On January 27th Felipe Cancino picked me up at the Campo and our expedition planning really kicked off with food planning and gear organizing at the Patagonia Coyhaique House.

Packing and organizing in Coyhaique.
So over the next few days Felipe and I run over maps, organized food, gear and logistics until our 3rd member arrived on January 29th. Willy arrived at 1pm on the 29th psyched to jump right in!
Making sure we have enjoy mate is very essential for a trip to the ice-field. Photo Willy Oppenheim
We repacked our food, finalized our gear, double checked everything and then loaded Felipe's car to head south to Puerto Bertrand and the start of where we would disconnect for an anticipated 20 days.

The winds on Lago Bertrand didn't allow us to travel in that afternoon so we woke early on Feb 1st to load the boat and make our way to Ramon Sierra's campo and the start of our approach by foot. We unloaded all our gear chatted with Ramon and were on our way.
Tyo boating us up Lago Bertrand and Lago Plomo. Photo Felipe Cancino
Walking in with our only day of little packs. Photo Felipe Cancino
The next day we meet Ramon and the horses that carried our gear up the Soler Valley around 11am. After we got everything organized Ramon started the 25km stroll back to his campo and we started slogging and shuttling our gear up onto the ice-field.
Quacho Ramon Sierra unloading our food and gear. Photo Felipe Cancino
During the first 4 days we shuttled our gear across the Nef glacier to just below the ice-field and our main climbing objective. Then during the next 4 days we got caught in the Patagonia winds having a night of holding the tent poles so they didn't snap, taking turns jumping out of our sleeping bags to re-tie our snapped p-cords that were tied around massive rocks and shuttling our last load up to where we planned our high camp would be in a snowstorm.
Pretty rad zone!
Yup we saw a Hemul and it totally hung out with us! Photo Willy Oppenheim
Some glacier stream crossings. Photo Willy Oppenheim
Willy engaged in some moraine travel. Photo Felipe Cancino
We did all of this with the anticipation of the weather window that was coming.... as we walked in it was 9days out and as we continued to move our gear the news of the window holding upped our stoke to get into position to take full advantage of this opportunity.

Cruising some glacier fins on the approach. Photo Felipe Cancino
Storm day activities.... Yatzee! Photo Felipe Cancino
The 15hr days of shuttling our food and gear up over dry ice and through the moraine covered glaciated terrain was all worth it when the skies opened up and the Patagonia winds died on Feb 9th and we were ready to go!!
Enjoying a freshly baked Calzone! Eating well out there is important!
Moving up to high camp. Photo Felipe Cancino
We quickly ate some food and were climbing out of our base camp and approaching the east face of the unclimbed Pta. Pantagruel. After our 3 hr glacial approach we navigated the bergshrund and continued up the face linking snow slopes with short steeps of rock and after 5 pitches, with difficulties up to M5, we reached the summit ridge. From here we made our way up through some rimmed up cracks and traversed east under the gendarme using a few points of aid and some thin mixed climbing. We the climbed one more beautiful mixed pitch to the summit and the first ascent of Pta. Pantagruel. We called our route "Brisa Suave" M6 C1 70Degrees 350m. Brisa Suave comes from an inside joke because the forecast often said brisa suave and the wind was ripping at 80km!
Heading out of camp.... behind me is just a Splitter Nunatak...
Climbing lower down on Pantagruel. Photo Felipe Cancino
Felipe and the average view of the Nef glacier behind.
Sweet rimmed up mixed climbing!
Climbing the last pitch on Brisa Suave. Photo Willy Oppenheim

Taking in the amazing views and standing on a previously unclimbed summit was/still is pretty surreal! We took a few summit shots and then started scrambling down the north ridge and with 1 full 60m rap we were soon back down to the glacier and making our way back to camp.
Cumbre!!! Pta Pantagruel! Photo Willy Oppenheim
After rolling into camp we quickly started cooking and planning our next day. There were 2 unclimbed peaks to the northwest of Pantagruel so we decided to head there.

The next morning after mate we were on the move. We arrived at the base of the route in 4hrs. Willy took off up the beauty steep glacial ice pitch which lead to lower angled snow covered glacier for a few more pitches. Then Felipe took us up a series of short steep steps to the summit ridge.
Tough living on the white desert.
Approaching the SW Face of Cerro Fantasma (Peak 2252m).
Willy starting up the steep glacial ice. Photo Felipe Cancino
Swimming up the southwest face. Photo Felipe Cancino
Climbing up the southwest face of Cerro Fantasma
Felipe working his way to the ridge.
During the approach the weather seemed to be moving in, though our forecast was saying different, so as Willy took off up the ridge we started to get rained on, the wind picked up and visibility decreased to almost zero by the time we hit the summit. Soaked, we descended quickly to the shelter of a crevasse just below the ridge where we fired up the stove for food, drink and re-energizing before making our way down. After a few hours of walking in the ping pong ball we dropped below the cloud and made our way back to camp tired and psyched on our accomplishments of the past few days.
Cumbre of Peak 2252 aka Cerro Fantasma Photo Felipe Cancino
Psyched on the hot food and drink! Photo Willy Oppenheim
Rapping into the white zone. Photo Willy Oppenheim.
Finally exiting the ping pong ball. Photo Willy Oppenheim
After a big dinner we started chatting about the last day of our window and if we wanted to stick it out for a few days to see if we could squeeze one more route out. After hearing from Frank and the updated forecast we decided to head down. With the anticipation of 100+km winds and inches of precip an hr we made our way down over the next 2 days and into the forest just in time!
Heading down off the Campo de Heilo Norte. Photo Felipe Cancino
Moraine Travel with heavy packs on the way out. Photo Felipe Cancino
A little moraine caving. Photo Felipe Cancino
The view is amazing and the winds that were blowing cannot be captured here!
The Patagonia weather returns in full force!
Willy and Felipe during the wild sand/gravel wind storm we had.
We had a few of these on the way in and out! Photo Felipe Cancino
Climbing in Patagonia is like playing dice..... sometimes you just have to take the chance and go for it! Whether you're exploring some new terrain on one of the massive ice-fields down here or in El Chalten climbing on some of the most spectacular granite towers in the world the Patagonia weather will always have an influence on your roll.

HUGE THANKS to my climbing partners Felipe Cancino and Willy Oppenheim for working hard, being amazing friends and expedition partners! To Tyo and Ramon for all there help with getting us in and out of the area! To Patagonia for the rad clothing and accommodation! And NOLS for supporting there instructors to push personal limits! And to all the people that support us on our adventures! You're all rad!

Drying out at base camp before heading down! Photo Felipe Cancino
Campo de Hielo Norte!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Transitions from the Mountains to work, rock, school and back around again.

Mt Grenville
Well it has been along time since I wrote, I lost the excitement to write for the past while and today I felt inspired so here we go.

In May Fred Giroux went on our expedition into the Homathko Ice-Field and had a fun successful trip putting up 3 new lines on 3 different peaks.
Backcountry Pizza courtesy of Fred! Pretty sweet kitchen eh!?
Standing on the summit ridge of Grenville were we topped out our route Melquidas. It was a short walk to the summit from there. Photo by Fred Giroux
Our routes from the trip.
Melquidas AI4 M4+ 350m, Mt Grenville
Remedios the Beauty AI3 600m, Peak 9331
Macondo 5.10 600m, Galleon Peak

You can find the trip reports here:

Also a huge thank you to the John Lauchlan Memorial Award and all there sponsors for helping make this trip possible!

After our trip I headed to Wyoming to work 2 NOLS course in the Wind River Range. On each trip we climbed a variety of rock snow and ice to make it to the summit of a number of mountains. Gannett Peak, Wyoming highest point, Nylon Peak, Mt Bonneville, Mt Warren, Doublet, & Dinwoody Peak.

I had the pleasure of working with Joe Frost, Galen Wilder and Chris Dickson and 23 students total. It was a wonderful summer working with these 3 great people. Chris and I worked 55 days in a row together and become wonder friends. Excited to connect with these people again soon! 
Teaching a Mountain Anatomy and Glaciology class Photo by Chris Dickson
Chris Dickson and I spent 55days in a row together this summer. That's along time and all I have to say is this human is rad and we forged a long lasting climbing partnership and friendship. Thanks buddy!! Here we're on the summit of Mt Bonneville.
Chris down climbing on the descent of Bonneville.
3 of our rads students climbing on Nylon Peak.
Climbing into the unknown on Bonneville Spire. We climbed what maybe a new 2 pitch 5.10 variation to the top of Bonneville Spire. Then linking it to the true summit of Bonneville for a total of 8 pitches. Photo by Chris Dickson
Audrey making it look easy on Nylon Peak!
Before leaving WY I got to climb at Wild Iris and a quick alpine rock route on the edge of the Cirque of the Towers. Chris, Galen and I climbed Black Elk on War Bonnett. One of the best alpine rock routes out there in my opinion!
War Bonnett Peak, Wind River Range WY
Chris and Galen climbing the steep splitters on Black Elk!
Galen on the crux pitch.... it gets wide!
Chris enjoying the view from up high in the Winds.
Good looking crew right there ;)
When work came to a close in WY I flow to the east coast to visit my lovely friend Kate Sirianni. We roamed around New Hampshire for a bit then bumped over into New Brunswick to visit my family before driving back to the west. Once back in WY Kate went to work a NOLS course and I ventured back to the coast for some Squamish granite.

It was great to roll into town and go climbing with some great friends Bryan Sexauer, Paul McSorley, Roger Yim, Fred Giroux, Greg Sinclair & Katie Oram. And also hang out and drink beers with numerous other awesome people!!

It wasn't long and my time on the coast come to a close and a new chapter was to be started. I had enrolled in a 13week Timber Framing Program at College of the Rockies in Cranbrook BC. There have been a number of different feelings that have pulsed through my body as I have been chiseling timbers in the East Kootenays. And honestly any feelings that had me wondering if I have chosen the right thing have disappeared:
1. The community of people I have meet here have been so warm and welcoming!
2. Timber Framing is really fun!
3. I'm working toward some of my personal goals.
4. There really is no real right thing in this cause, it seems to me that being present and having as much fun as you can is the most important. If you can do that life is pretty freaking awesome! At least it is for me right now!!

The climbing around Cranbrook is predominately sport climbing which is great because I have been pushing myself to try hard and project routes (something I haven't really done until now).

When I arrived in Cranbrook I headed to Arq Mountain Center and bought a 3 month membership to climb and train while I'm here. In the first 2 weeks I meet of few folks and got out climbing at a few of the local areas.

First it was Perry Creek. The climbing here is rad! We climbed on Baby Bum Wall. The climbing is steep & sustained polished rock with small seams and edges to pick your way up the routes. There are other crags at Perry with numerous routes for all abilities.
Noah working the moves out on a beauty 12a at Baby Bum Wall, Perry Creek.
Lakit Lake came second, which by the sounds of things is unusual when climbing around Cranbrook, because it it the spot! Lakit is steep and positive climbing with often big moves and decent holds. This is a classic sport climbing spot with routes from 5.10 to 5.13+.
Drew working the moves out on a 12c at Lakit Lake. Photo by Kate Sirianni
Noah red pointing at 12+ route at Lakit Lake.
Climbing the beauty stone at Lakit Lake. Photo by Kate Sirianni
Over the past month I have got to help out with the Arq Youth Climbing Team. This crew is awesome they are so fun andsupportive of each other it is an honor to work with them! Thanks Gord for letting me help out.

I also went on a Thanksgiving road trip to Skaha, another first. I'm sorry that I hadn't made it sooner! Skaha you're amazing! So excited to go back!

Heather working out the moves on a 12a at Muscle Beach, Skaha.
Ineke lets her feet go at Muscle Beach!
Gord working through the pump at Muscle Beach.
Needless to say I think this place is rad with exceptional people, great climbing and no crowds! Also a shout out to Arq Mountain Center for being a supportive, kind and fun climbing environment!
Check them out here:

With the weeks passing and the temps dropping I think of my sport climbing projects a Lakit and Perry and they seem distant..... my ice tools become more present. I cannot wait to scratch and swing my way up more spectacular mixed lines this winter. My eyes wonder to Fisher Peak and the Steeples that dominate the skyline on my walk to school. They have a healthy dusting of snow and are calling my name. Seems like I should listen!

Thanks so much to Drew Leiterman, Noah Beek, Heather Burrows, Marshall Burrows, Ineke Rhebergen, Gord McArthur & Kevin Martin for sharing ropes, road trips, laughs and good times! You all rock! I'm looking forward to many more!